Changed for the Better


February 26, 2017

Matthew 17:1-9

While I was in seminary, every January we would be required to take a J-Term course. These courses varied from Biblical Hebrew, to ministering in the inner city, to trips to the Holy Land or Haiti. In my second year of seminary I found myself at The Abbey of Gethsemani for an entire week on silent retreat. It was part of a two-week course on monasticism and exploring different forms of contemplation and prayer. The Abbey of Gethsemani is a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, surrounded by beautiful rolling hills.

I chose this specific J-Term course because I had always been intrigued by the monastic life and this was an opportunity to learn and experience more. At this time, I was also questioning whether I wanted to continue on in my seminary studies, which I believe is a part of many seminary student’s journey, where we question our call to serve the church. My week at Gethsemani was a turning point and the beginning of a transformation. Jesus calls us to change as we are transformed through God’s Word and in prayer.

This week I have had the opportunity to experience all of the facets of Christian life. Having the opportunity to baptize an adult, as Katelyne will be in a little bit, reminds me of the power of community as we worship together proclaiming the good news and leading people to the baptismal waters. On Thursday the life of Bob Wetzel was celebrated as he lived to 98 before entering into eternal life. While baptism and death are the bookends of our earthly Christian lives, something mysterious happens in the time in between.

Baptism is not the pinnacle of our Christian life, it is only the beginning. As we enter into community with others and worship and pray together, the mystery of God works in and among us. Drawing us together in ways that we could never fathom. And the thing is, we more often than not, get in the way of God’s work. We put up our own personal roadblocks. We stop short, thinking that we could not go any farther, or we are just satisfied with mediocre. Sometimes we even stop right in the midst of the transformation itself. Look at our gospel lesson. Peter would have been content if they were to stay up at the top of the mountain for the rest of their days. Jesus lets us know that there is work yet to be done. Jesus with Elijah and Moses on the mountain top was just a glimpse of the kingdom to come. Like Peter and the other disciples, we today still have to be God’s hands and feet in the world as we care for our neighbors and those that cannot care for themselves.

In the midst of proclaiming the good news through our words and actions, we are transformed and begin to experience God at an all new level. James Finley shares his thoughts on change in Richard Rohr’s daily devotional:

Imagine that you have a dream in which you are climbing a high mountain. The valley below is where you grew up, where you experienced pain and made many mistakes. You are trying to transcend and leave this place by reaching the summit, on which you will be sublimely holy and one with God.

As the summit comes into view, the wind rising from the valley brings with it the sound of a child crying out in distress. You realize that there is no real choice but to go down the mountain to find and help the hurting child. Turning back, you descend into the valley. Following the child’s cries, you arrive at the very home you tried to leave behind.

You gently open the door and look inside. Sitting in the corner on the floor is your own wounded child-self, that part of you that holds feelings of powerlessness and shame. You sit down next to the child on the floor. For a long time you say nothing. Then a most amazing thing happens. As you are putting your arms around this child, you suddenly realize you are on the lofty summit of union with God!

To be transformed in compassionate love does not mean that you do not have to continue struggling and working through your shortcomings and difficulties. It means learning to join God who loves you through and through in the midst of all your shortcomings. As you continue to be transformed in this way, you come to realize that right here, right now, just the way you are, you are one with love that loves you and takes you to itself just the way you are. [1]

We find ourselves on the doorsteps of Lent this morning. This coming Wednesday, we will join together to be reminded of our own personal need for repentance and for God’s mercy. We exit the season of Light that we know of as Epiphany and turn towards a self-examination that happens during Lent, only to encounter Jesus’ death on the cross and Resurrection to life everlasting.

Lent is a time to be transformed as we repent of those things known and unknown that steer us away from the knowledge and love of God. May Jesus’ own transfiguration on the mountain top awaken a transformation within you. While change can be difficult and uncomfortable, it is in our own transformation that we experience change. Changed for the better. Changed for the life to come.

[1] Finley, James. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, February 24, 2017

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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